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NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe on Historic Mission – Spaceflight Now



United Launch Alliance Delta 4 heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe at 3:31 am EDT (0731 GMT) Sunday, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Source: NASA / Bill Ingalls

A day later, a heavy Delta-4 rocket from Cape Canaveral's United Launch Alliance raced away on early Sunday, adding NASA's $ 1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe to a daring seven-year mission into space , Touch the Sun "with repeated rides through the blazing outer atmosphere of the star.

The spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500 degrees if it is within 3.8 million miles of the visible surface of the Sun – well within the shimmering halo of the outer Atmosphere or Corona – Happens He heated as he raced past the star at a record speed of 430,000 miles per hour, fast enough to fly from New York to Tokyo in less than a minute.

The goal is to attract scientists Helping to find out what makes the corona warmer than the visible surface of the sun accelerates charged particles to enormous velocities and creates the solar wind that flows away from the corona in all directions.

And the mystery is profound, the visible surface of the sun has a temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but just above it in the corona shoots the Tem temperature to several million degrees.

Even though it repeatedly flies through the corona, Parker will not experience such extreme temperatures because the ionized gas that forms the outer atmosphere is so thin. But the probe's heat shield is getting hotter than lava, while its instruments examine the hellish environment in unprecedented detail.

Scientists have two theories about what heats the corona. This could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the strong magnetic field of the Sun, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" controlled by another mechanism. Or maybe both.

Artistic concept of Parker Solar Probe. Credit: JHUAPL

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can not answer these questions," said project scientist Nicola Fox. "Why is the corona hotter than the surface of the sun?" This contradicts the laws of nature, it's like water flowing uphill, it should not happen.

"Why in this region the solar atmosphere suddenly becomes so energized that it ( gravitational) Holding the sun escapes and bathes all the planets? We could not answer these questions. "

As we learn more about the solar wind, we can also better predict the effects of solar storms and the effects of the solar wind on Earth's magnetic field, destroying communication and power grids (19659003)" This space weather has no immediate impact always positive to our technology in space, our spacecraft, it interferes with our communications, it creates a dangerous environment for astronauts and in the most extreme cases can actually affect our power grids here on earth, "said Alex Young, deputy director of the heliophysics program NASA.

"So it's essential that we can predict this space weather just as we predict the weather here on Earth. "

To achieve its goal, the Delta 4 Heavy and a solid fuel supercharge had to provide enough energy to counteract Earth's orbit around the sun of 18 miles per second to fall into the inner solar system.

24 hours too late because of a last-minute countdown glitch Saturday, the hike began at 3:31 pm EDT (GMT-4) Sunday, when the 233-foot-high delta ignited three hydrogen-powered Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68A main engines a rush of bright orange flames and quickly throttled up to 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

Viewing the start, Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, was the first to hypothesize the existence of the solar wind in 1958. Parker, the first living scientist to have a space probe named after him now flew to Cape Canaveral to witness his first rocket launch.

The Delta 4 Heavy did not disappoint. 19659003] "I really have to stop myself from biting my nails and thinking about all the interesting things that I do not know yet and that, I suspect, will become apparent over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said in a NASA interview.

"It's a whole new phase and it's going to be mesmerizing all the time … All I can say is wow, here we go, we'll learn something in the years ahead."

Eugene Parker, Namesake of the NASA Parker Solar Probe, observes the launch of the spaceship on early Sunday. Image: NASA / Glenn Benson

After a meter-long trail of fiery exhaust, the massive 1.6m rocket climbed majestically from the 37B launch complex at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and flew east of it trajectory over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket accelerated smoothly as it consumed propellant and lost weight, emanating spectacularly from the thick lower atmosphere. The two side boosters finished and dropped off as expected less than four minutes after the start.

The central core booster continued for another one and a half minutes before he also stopped and dropped from the high-speed second floor. A few seconds later, the single hydrogen-powered Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine ignited to continue its ascent into space.

Finally, after two ignitions of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman The upper stage was then detonated for a short burn and delivered more than half the final speed of the probe. Forty-three minutes after takeoff, the spacecraft dropped the exhausted upper stage and began to fly by itself.

An illustration of the Parker Solar Probe trajectory through the inner solar system after takeoff. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL

If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will move from Venus to a gravity encounter in about six weeks, helping the spaceship slow down even further. Seven Venusflybys are planned during the seven-year mission to fine tune the trajectory and set up the nearby target points.

The first passage through the Sun, at a distance of approximately 15 million miles – three times closer than any previous spacecraft – is expected in November.

"So we are already in a region of very, very interesting coronal areas," said Fox. "In fact, one of the most important things in our early days is that we are actually watching this type of sweet spot … over the same area of ​​the sun for many, many days, which allows us to truly incredible science to play us first flyby. "


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